VERO BEACH, FLORIDA – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. A classic Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western flick.
And, now, also an apt description for the current state of the NFL.
In a nutshell, this season in pro football has been a mesmerizing mess.
First the Good:
■ Turnaround teams — Jacksonville, the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans and Philadelphia all surprised by capturing division titles.
The Jaguars snapped a skid of six straight losing campaigns — ALL of them with double digits in defeats. This season they’re 10-5, AFC South champs and will make their first postseason appearance since 2006.
Meanwhile, the Rams ended a string of 11-straight losing records to wrest control of the NFC West away from Seattle. The franchise last made the playoffs in ’04.
The Saints rebounded from back-to-back losing campaigns to win the NFC South.
And Philly clambered out of the NFC East cellar to compile the best record in the entire league.
Refreshing to say the least.
■ High-scoring nail-biters galore — MAS can’t recall a season containing as many of ’em as this year.
A recent MAS TV Sunday went like this:
First, Green Bay rallies to tie Cleveland in the closing seconds and wins in overtime, 27-21, denying the Browns their first win.
Then Philadelphia edges the LA Rams 43-35 in a see-saw, down to-the-wire track meet.
And finally, Pittsburgh nipped Baltimore, 39-38, in yet another wide-open barn-burner.
This season, just your average NFL weekend.
■ Breakout quarterback performances — Minnesota journeyman Case Keenum, in place of injured Sam Bradford, played brilliantly in leading the Vikings to the Central Division title.
Philly’s Carson Wentz, Jacksonville’s Blake Bortles and Jared Goff of the LA Rams really took off as well in guiding their clubs to divisional crowns.
(Not to be outdone those ageless wonders Tom Brady, at 40, and Drew Brees, 39 on Jan. 15, also had fab seasons.)
■ “GOAT” Belichick — Call New England coach Bill Belichick “Belicheat” or “Blandman” if you must. MAS prefers the Greatest Of All Time among NFL coaches.
Guy’s success rate is unprecedented in the NFL.
Yes, Belichick is blessed to have Brady as his QB. But Tommy Tantrum is surrounded by new faces yearly, yet the winning of division, conference and Super Bowl titles never ends for the Pats.
And Belichick’s “Do Your Job” coaching mantra is the underlying reason.
■ Russell Wilson’s Houdini Act — The Seattle QB this season has been Fran Tarkenton, Michael Vick and Roger Staubach all rolled into one with his amazing escapability, swiftness afoot and rifle arm.
Wilson has accounted for 90 percent of the Seahawk offense with his arm and legs and magically engineered a bunch of late, game-winning drives.
Alas, now for the Bad:
■ Precipitous plunges — Eight of the 12 teams in the 2016 playoff field will miss the postseason this campaign, including: Miami, Dallas, Green Bay, the New York Giants, Detroit, Houston and Oakland.
And either Atlanta, a Super Bowl team last season, or Seattle will join them on the sidelines after their games next weekend.
Most clubs listed failed to even secure a winning record.
■ Celebrations have gone from the ridiculous to the sublime — Players are now permitted to perform inane group “skits.”
Leapfrog, a Rockette chorus line, bowling antics, baseball bits, relay races, NASCAR tire changes and the like.
None of them funny or clever. Just stupid-looking.
Dignity, like Elvis, has left the building.
As for those who actually find the players’ antics amusing and entertaining, MAS can only reference his Pop’s reaction to the slapstick routine of a beloved TV comedian.
With a shake of his head, MASDad offered: “Only someone with a small mind could laugh at that.”
But, hey, whatever floats your boat. Knock yourselves out, lovers of the new National Fools, err Fun, League.
■ Weekly all out-brawls and shoving and woofing every other play — Are the league and its officials afraid to take the bull by the horns and demand an end to such idiotic, pseudo-macho nonsense?
Guess so, why else would they allow it to grow by leaps and bounds yearly?
■ Injuries occurring at a mind-blowing pace. Oops, bad choice of words, given the preponderance of concussions now being suffered.
MAS cannot recall a season in NFL history in which so many teams were ravaged by injury.
Cases in point: Washington’s entire offensive line was on injured reserve by midseason. And the New York Giants starting wide receiver corps was wiped out after only five games.
Players nowadays are bigger, faster and stronger. This equates to so many more injuries that they pose a very serious threat to the existence of the NFL as we know it.
Something must be done short of reducing the game to flag football. But is that possible?
And, finally, the Ugly.
■ Horrible tackling — Too many cowardly “business decision” efforts, resulting in lame whiffs or half-hearted shoulder block attempts that fail.
Even worse, many defenders shun tackling and merely look to strip the ball from the runner.
Think Deion Sanders, the king of contact avoidance, and you get the picture league-wide.
■ Judoka blocking — When the ball is snapped, it’s looks like nine judo matches break out simultaneously.
When it comes to death grips, Japanese shirt-yankers have nothing on NFL offensive blockers.
Small wonder a penalty is called almost every other play.
The legendary shoulder block now sleeps with the dinosaurs.
■ Color Rush — The NFL’s tag for Thursday night games featuring teams clad head-to-toe in garish colors.
Like Seattle’s chartreuse numbers, Kansas City’s fire engine red jobs, the pastel aqua green Miami duds and Denver’s orange crush items.
All require copious amounts of Pepto Bismol to stomach and Visine eye wash to look at.
■ Large swaths of empty seats in 27,000 seat StubHub Center in Carson, California, temporary home of the AFC West-contending Los Angeles Chargers.
And visiting fans often outnumber and outcheer Charger fans.
■ The national anthem protest flap dividing America even further. ‘Nuff said.
Yep, these days the NFL is Eastwood, the cool, serape-wearing good guy battling it out with Lee Van Cleef, Clint’s evil, sneering nemesis.
Football life imitating cinematic art.
Contact Man About Sports at: firstname.lastname@example.org
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5